Legal Aid Eligibility and Coverage in Canada

Inventory of Legal Aid Plans in Canada (continued)

Inventory of Legal Aid Plans in Canada (continued)

Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island does not have specific legal aid legislation. The scope of services is determined by government policy not legislation. Prince Edward Island operates a judicare system of legal aid (for the most part, services are offered by staff).

The objective of criminal legal aid is to promote access to legal representation in the criminal trial process. Under the program, lawyers are available to persons who would otherwise be unable to afford legal representation in serious criminal matters. As a minimum, legal aid will be provided in situations where a court applying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would consider the assistance of counsel to be essential for a fair trial.

Financial Eligibility

Eligibility is determined through a flexible means test. Income is the primary factor but there are no fixed income cut-offs. Applicants receiving social assistance are financially eligible for legal aid, subject to the merit of the case. Applicants may also be considered eligible if they are without funds and require immediate legal assistance to preserve their rights or they cannot pay for a lawyer without impairing their ability to keep themselves and any dependents fed, clothed, sheltered and living as a family. An applicant's assets, liabilities and the complexity of the case, urgency of situation, cost of proceeding and whether a reasonable person will spend money to advance the case will be considered. Applicants are expected to use all ordinary means of retaining a lawyer privately before applying for legal aid.

The eligibility test is conducted by staff lawyers who must weigh the seriousness of the legal proceedings and then consider whether the applicant's present means should be sufficient to actually obtain private counsel within the time required.

Income Guidelines[15]
Gross Yearly Income ($)
Single Person 14,176
Family of two 17,720
Family of three 22,037
Family of four 26,677

The income scale was increased, in July 2001, to meet the 1999 before-tax income cut-offs published by Statistics Canada. This new guideline increased the eligibility level for a single person with no dependents from $13,572 to $14,176 (an increase of $604)[16]. In applying these guidelines, the applicant's assets, liabilities, the complexity of the legal matter, the urgency of the situation, the cost of the proceeding and whether a reasonable person who had to pay for a lawyer would spend the money to advance the case will be considered.

The guidelines are very flexible. It is important to note that the means testing is done by the lawyer who would be working on the file. In practice, according to Prince Edward Island Legal Aid, they operate above the scale, that is, in favor of the applicant.

Expanded Eligibility through Contributions No.

Income definition

Gross annual income. The income of the applicant's spouse is also taken into account.

Family Definition

Family size.

Client Contributions

Applicants are expected to use all ordinary means of retaining a lawyer privately before applying for legal aid. Applicants may be required to contribute to the cost of legal services dependent upon their ability to pay.

Substantive Coverage

All federal indictable and summary criminal matters are covered. The likelihood of imprisonment test is not applied to deny coverage but it may be used on a discretionary basis to limit services to minor matters.

Criminal Appeals

Appeals by the Crown are covered in criminal matters for both youth and adults. The case must have merit or else appeals by the accused are not covered.

Duty Counsel

Staff lawyers are available at legal aid offices during business hours to provide legal advice and assistance in criminal matters to applicants who may be financially eligible for legal aid. Staff lawyers are not under a contractual obligation to provide assurance of immediate access to counsel after hours.

Where legal aid is requested by persons who are arrested or detained after hours in respect of a matter that may be covered by the federal-provincial cost-sharing agreement, it is assumed that the police will take extra measures to facilitate access with either a staff lawyer or duty counsel depending on the seriousness of the crime. There is no Brydges duty counsel.

Administration Fees

There are no user fees.


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